The Human Stain by Philip Roth


The Human Stain tells the story of Coleman Silk, a retired classics professor who has resigned from his post after a chance remark sees him wrongly accused of racism. Silk begins an affair with Faunia Farley, an illiterate janitor who works on the campus. She is everything opposite to him, young, poor uneducated. Faunia is being stalked by her former husband Lester, a Vietnam vet who is suffering the effects of PTSD and who blames her for the death of their two young children.

The novel is narrated by Silks neighbour Nathan Zuckerman who  Roth uses as a framming device throughout the novel, revealing the secret that Silk is keeping almost his entire adult life and juxtaposing this against America of that time.  Though the lives of his characters Roth deals the war in Vietnam, the Clinton impeachment and corruption in academia.

The Human Stain explores themes of both identity and shame. How do we know who we really are if societal discrimination and the shame foisted upon us for who we are and where we come from is so great that it forces us to deny our true selves and those we love. Roth describes the human stain as as”.an imprint, impurity, cruelty, abuse, error, It’s in everyone. The stain so intrinsic it doesn’t require a mark.” Roth asked are we damned by this and society’s lack of humanity and forgiveness.

I love how rich the prose of this novel are, the depth and both opposition and similarity of his characters and the questions it allows us post to ourselves.


You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

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